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Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Page: 9021

Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling—Palm Oil) Legislation

Dr LEIGH (Fraser) (14:59): My question is to the Minister for Trade. Will the minister inform the House of developments on the Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling—Palm Oil) Bill 2011. What are the possible economic consequences of passage of the bill?

Dr EMERSON (RankinMinister for Trade) (14:59): I thank the member for Fraser for his question and for his persistent and ongoing interest in good public policy. The Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling—Palm Oil) Bill 2011passed the Senate on 23 June with the support of the coalition. The stated aim of the bill is improvements in consumer labelling but the government already has in place consumer labelling requirements and ongoing processes for considering improvements in consumer labelling. The bill threatens yet again Australian exports, Australian jobs and Australian small businesses. Once again we see an example of the economic recklessness of the Leader of the Opposition and his desire for opportunism over good policy.

Last night we were able to watch the spectacle of humiliation of the shadow minister for agriculture as the item came up. Where were they? The item on New Zealand apples just disappeared without trace. He completely missed it. There he was a couple of days before saying, 'I'm proceeding with my apples bill.' And what does he do? He is confronted with a humiliating backdown.

Mr Andrews: Mr Speaker, a point of order on relevance: this question from his own side was about palm oil and he is now off on a frolic about apples.

The SPEAKER: I thank our learned colleague for his submission, as literate as it was. He has made his point and I hope that the Treasurer will be cognisant of that—sorry, the Minister for Trade.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER: I apologise to the Deputy Prime Minister because how could I misconstrue the Minister for Trade for the Treasurer!

Dr EMERSON: You are gobbling up my time, Mr Speaker, but it has allowed me to recover from the devastating blow from the member for Menzies. I will get back to the palm oil bill. Here are the risks associated with the palm oil bill: Malaysia and Indonesia have indicated that they will take a dispute against Australia to the World Trade Organisation if the parliament proceeds with the palm oil bill. If we lost that dispute we would again be exposed to retaliatory action just as we were with the bill that dare not speak its name, the apples bill. It is not just retaliation that we need to worry about. These are the estimates of the adverse impact on Australian businesses of the labelling requirements of the palm oil bill—$150 million.

Here is the opposition leader who feigns concern about business, we have the shadow minister over here feigning concern about small businesses, but they are happy to apply a $150 million penalty to Australian businesses. Why? Here is the mystery: the coalition members of the Senate committee indicated that they would oppose the bill, that the bill should be opposed.

Mr Billson: Mr Speaker, on a point of order: perhaps this should be a ministerial statement if the government is changing its position from the way it did not vote in the Senate.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Dunkley knows that that should have been a point of order in relation to the question. The Minister for Trade is responding to the question.

Dr EMERSON: Coalition members of the Senate committee recommended the bill be opposed. They were going to oppose it until, I am told by coalition MPs, the opposition leader personally intervened and demanded—this is true—that the coalition support this bill in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. Do you want to know our position? We are opposing the bill. That is the truth of the matter. Let us hear just briefly what Professor John Hewson, the Leader of the Opposition's former employer, said about him: 'Tony is genuinely innumerate. He has no interest in economics and no feeling for it.' There are 70 billion reasons why this man should never be the Prime Minister of Australia. How many dollars in a $70 billion black hole? There are 70 billion of them! You should never be the Prime Minister of Australia.

The SPEAKER: Order! The Minister for Trade will resume his seat. The member for North Sydney will ignore everything else going on around him. He has now got the call and he can ask his question.